FRONTLINE: "Chasing Saddam's Weapons"
Air date: January 22, 2004
ANNOUNCER: Just one year ago, the Bush
administration was telling the world Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass
POWELL, Secretary of State: Our conservative estimate is that Iraq
today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agents.
ANNOUNCER: But today the White House is under
increasing attack for the claims it made.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: There's been no evidence from any of the interviews or statements of
former Iraqi officials that such stockpiles, in fact, exist.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story on the search
for what happened to Saddam's most deadly weapons.
DAVID KAY, Iraq Survey Group: The entire credibility of U.S. foreign
policy and intelligence has been called into question by our inability to find
CORBIN, BBC Correspondent: The team is hoping that they're going
ANNOUNCER: BBC correspondent Jane Corbin was given
exclusive access inside the secretive Iraq Survey Group whose missing is to
find Saddam's weapons.
CORBIN: You've found no weapons at all so far,
KAY: We've found no actual weapons of mass
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the exclusive story of the frustrations,
the pressures and the astonishing discoveries inside America's desperate chase
for Saddam's weapons.
JANE CORBIN, BBC Correspondent: [voice-over] On the outskirts of Baghdad lie the
rusted remains of Iraq's once-feared armory: old tanks, battlefield rockets and
artillery. But amidst the
wreckage, there is no evidence of the weapons coalition forces had feared the
most, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Before the war, the politicians had been adamant that Saddam Hussein had
those weapons and might give them to terrorists. The danger, they implied, was imminent.
GEORGE W. BUSH: The danger to our country is
grave. The danger to our country
is growing. The Iraqi regime
possesses biological and chemical weapons.
Minister TONY BLAIR: The weapons of mass destruction program
is not shut down, it is up and running now.
RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: The United States knows that Iraq has
weapons of mass destruction. The
U.K. knows that they have weapons of mass destruction. Any country on the face of the Earth
with an active intelligence program knows that Iraq has weapons of mass
JANE CORBIN: But as coalition troops advanced on
Baghdad, there had been no Iraqi order to fire weapons of mass
destruction. The chemical and
biological shells the U.S. confidently expected to find within days have never
materialized. So for the past
seven months, a special coalition military and intelligence unit, the Iraq
Survey Group, has been scouring the country, hunting for the weapons the
politicians said existed.
I was granted unique access to observe their work. It's the first time any outsider has
been on a mission with the ISG.
[on camera] This is a surprise trip right into the
heart of downtown Baghdad. The
team is hoping that they're going to find not only relevant documents but also
Iraqis who can tell them something about the programs of mass destruction.
Today the ISG has received a tip-off that this small Iraqi
pharmaceutical company was secretly importing materials to make long-range
missiles for Saddam Hussein. The
company's own Web site makes clear its view of America's war against terror.
SOLDIER: It's got a bullseye on Bush, with a
note to make this the home page.
SOLDIER: Some uniforms--
JANE CORBIN: The public was led to expect that
coalition soldiers would unearth warheads filled with nerve gas and anthrax,
but today they're dismantling computers instead.
Maj. JOHN SUTTER, Iraq Survey Group: The
good thing is, we found a lot of email addresses. We found a lot of names of individuals that we're already
aware of and other contacts that they've worked with. So that's a good start right there.
JANE CORBIN: Then they find blueprints which reveal
this drug firm was really a front company for military procurement.
Maj. JOHN SUTTER: We're finding a lot of standard
pharmaceutical stuff on the top of each pile, and usually when you go down
further, you find more about military applications-- radar, body armor, a number
of other items in here. A lot of
chemicals mentioned here. Probably
most are pharmaceuticals. We're
interested in certain ones that could be used for propellant applications.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] The ISG group's been here for about two
hours now, and they say it is worth taking these boxes back. There are files of interest to
them. But the big question is, how
significant would all this turn out to be?
[voice-over] Now, months into their mission, the
prospect of finding the smoking gun is fading. There's just a giant puzzle the ISG has to piece together.
Maj. JOHN SUTTER: We found lots of documents where they
were trying to go around legal ways to purchase these things. And again, it's a front company, so
we've got lots of information. We
did find the things we're looking for, but we're going to have to sit down and
do the research to try to link it to the missile programs. And so yes, no single large missile
that we've found or chemicals, but we've found a lot of small pieces so far,
and we just need to continue this hunt.
JANE CORBIN: It took two months from the end of the
war to set up the Iraq Survey Group and begin the systematic search for the
weapons. A thousand experts from
America, Britain and Australia were brought together. The U.S.-led group took over an old palace of Saddam's,
renamed Camp Slayer. It was
trashed and looted, like many of the places in Iraq they were interested
in. The coalition's failure to
secure sites and preserve evidence created a problem for the ISG from the
start. In the new command center,
the murals proclaimed Iraq's military might. But what was the truth? Did they possess forbidden weapons? It was the ISG's task to find out.
Dr. DAVID KAY, Iraq Survey Group: This balcony gives you a good view of the grandeur of this complex. And in fact, you can't even see all of
it here. That was a Ba'ath
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] What, in the middle of the lake?
DAVID KAY: In the middle of the lake. This is what was to be a main
presidential palace, still under construction at the time of the war.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Under fire for its intelligence
estimates before the war, the CIA chose a man they called their "ramrod" to
head up the ISG. Dr. David Kay, an
ex-U.N. inspector who had helped uncover Iraq's past nuclear program, began
work knowing political futures could rest on his findings.
DAVID KAY: The entire credibility of both the
U.S., and I must say, I think British foreign policy and intelligence, has been
called into question by our inability to find the weapons immediately. I think we all realize after Iraq, we
really do have to readjust our intelligence services for the new demands posed
by countries like Iraq and others. We're not going to know how to make that adjustment until we know what
the lessons learned here. What was
the ground truth?
JANE CORBIN: David Kay had been searching for the
truth about Saddam's weapons programs since the first Gulf war in 1991. After that war, Kay was put in charge
of one of the U.N. missions to investigate Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
DAVID KAY: So we suddenly appeared at the gate of
a military facility at a place called Abu Ghraib and demanded access. The poor commander of the base that day
said, "I have no orders to let you in," but he made what turned out to be a
genuinely fatal mistake for him. He said, "You can put up as many members of your team as you want to on
this water tower, which is right inside the gate."
JANE CORBIN: The inspectors on the water tower
spotted Iraqi trucks slipping out the back gate. Kay immediately ordered his team to chase after them.
[June 28, 1991]
INSPECTOR: Go get 'em, Pee Wee! Go get
JANE CORBIN: The U.N. Land Rovers caught up with the
trucks and tried to pull them over. The Iraqis refused to stop.
DAVID KAY: In the process, the Iraqis decided to
fire shots over their head, but we did get the photographs, and the photographs
are damning as to what the Iraqis were doing.
JANE CORBIN: The photographs showed the trucks were
carrying calutrons, giant iron magnets which can be used to enrich uranium.
DAVID KAY: Well, this was the proof that no one
could deny. It was physical
evidence of a very, very large uranium enrichment program. And it was also the evidence of
concealment, that from the very beginning, the Iraqis had not been living up to
INSPECTOR: --that you are in serious violation, a
flagrant violation of Resolution 687, and it will be up to the Security Council
members and the secretary general of the United Nations to determine how they
DAVID KAY: It turned out they had spent over $10
billion in the 1980s to develop a program that explored practically every known
way to enrich uranium and to craft a nuclear weapon. This was not a small program, it was one that was so
extensive that, as an inspector, when you faced it, your mind just boggled.
JANE CORBIN: U.N. inspectors spent seven years in
Iraq. They uncovered thousands of
chemical and biological munitions. They unearthed WMD research programs and destroyed laboratories and
production facilities. But by
1998, they reached an impasse. Denied access to Saddam's palaces, accused of spying, the U.N.
inspectors had to leave.
Iraq's intransigence convinced many, including David Kay,
that Saddam was still hiding weapons of mass destruction. In the lead-up to the second war in
Iraq, David Kay, now a consultant to NBC, argued publicly that the U.S. should
remove Saddam from power.
Nightly News," September 17, 2002]
KAY: If you want to disarm Iraq, remove its
weapons of mass destruction, there is no alternative to replacing the regime.
the Press," December 18, 2002]
everyone who runs an active intelligence service knows this regime has been
seeking weapons of mass destruction.
News With Brian Williams," April 14, 2003]
think it's there, and it's got to be found. And that is the new priority. The administration has to invest the effort and the people
into doing it.
JANE CORBIN: So when, after the war, the CIA put Dr.
Kay in charge of finding those weapons, some seasoned observers were concerned.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, Former UN Nuclear Weapons Inspector: David
Kay was a very big advocate that Iraq had large WMD programs, and he's had that
attitude for quite a while. And in
fact, I was surprised that he was appointed to this position. I mean, if you really want to have a
credible, objective job done, don't bring in one of the strongest advocates
that Iraq has massive WMD programs, and "Give me time, and I'll find it."
JANE CORBIN: Dr. Kay's critics pointed to remarks
he'd made just after the war, before he joined the ISG, about two captured
KAY: --nutrients. Think of it sort of as a chicken soup for biological
JANE CORBIN: Dr. Kay said these vehicles were very
likely mobile production facilities for biological weapons.
KAY: Literally, there's nothing else you
would do this way on a mobile facility. It is it.
JANE CORBIN: The Bush administration was quick to
seize on the find and declare the trailers part of Iraq's biological weapons
GEORGE W. BUSH: We found the weapons of mass
destruction. You know, we found
JANE CORBIN: The infamous trailers are parked on a
back lot at Camp Slayer, but you don't hear much about them now. The Iraqis claim they produced hydrogen
to fill weather balloons on an artillery range. Because some pipes are missing, experts can't tell if they
carried a gas or a liquid biological agent. The vessel at the center of each trailer is the biggest
mystery of all.
[on camera] The experts are pretty much split 50-50
on this bit of kit. Is it a fermenter
to brew deadly germs or a vessel to produce hydrogen? Some have even suggested it resembles a giant coffee
[voice-over] Exhaustive testing of the equipment has
failed to reveal any trace of biological weapons agent. Reluctantly, by July, the new ISG
leader conceded everyone had been rather hasty.
DAVID KAY: I wish that news hadn't come out.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] It was premature to announce them as
being that definitely, and embarrassing?
DAVID KAY: I think it was premature and
embarrassing. That's exactly what
we're trying to do. That's why I'm
so reticent in my discussion with you, essentially, in early July, when we're
talking now, because I don't want this-- I don't want the mobile biological
production facilities fiasco of May to be the model of the future.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] As they moved into Camp Slayer in the
summer of 2003, the ISG adopted a forensic approach to the hunt. U.S. troops had already failed to find
any weapons at sites that were suspicious before the war, so the ISG
concentrated its search on people and records. Iraq had been a bureaucratic nation. Members of Saddam's regime tried to
destroy many documents as they fled, but mountains of paperwork from
ministries, barracks and factories were soon collected at Camp Slayer.
SOLDIER: There's no exact figure been done, but
we estimate it's about seven-and-half miles, if it was laid end to end.
JANE CORBIN: Twelve years earlier, after the first
Gulf war, it had been a paper trail which led the U.N. inspectors to Iraq's
hidden weapons programs. Although
denial and deception had been built into the very fabric of the regime, clues
had inadvertently been revealed in documents. So that's where the ISG began, sifting through tons of
paper. Selected documents were
passed to the heart of the operation, the secret intelligence analysts working
with translators. Their job: to
identify any Iraqi who might be involved in producing, storing or moving
weapons of mass destruction.
OFFICER: Could I get everybody's attention again? What we're looking for are high-ranking officials, starting
with major and above, working with the Special Republican Guard, Republican
SOLDIER: This is a Special Security Force, and it's about information.
JANE CORBIN: The mood at the Iraq Survey Group in
July was upbeat, but a change of language was already detectable, with less
emphasis on finding actual weapons.
DAVID KAY: I can say that we've already found
enough evidence to convince me that we will be successful, if you judge success
by finding a weapons program that involved weapons of mass destruction.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] What about the weapons themselves? Because I think the public expected to
see weapons lined up, ready to use against our troops.
DAVID KAY: Well, if I'd found weapons ready to be
used and lined up, I would-- I'd be breaking news. I just don't know. We're looking for them. The
Iraqis engaged in quite a bit of destruction and dispersal effort prior to the
war, certainly during the war and after the war, and that's why it's not an
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] In New York, just as Dr Kay was
beginning his hunt, another weapons inspector, who had found Iraq no easy task,
was retiring. Dr. Hans Blix's U.N.
teams had searched Iraq for weapons of mass destruction just before the
war. He had suspected Saddam might
have forbidden programs but came under fire from the Americans for failing to
find stockpiles of anthrax and other weapons. Watching the ISG, Blix, too, had noted how the Americans now
talked, not about actual weapons, but only about WMD programs.
HANS BLIX, Exec. Chmn UN Inspectors, 2000-'03: I've
even seen American spokesmen sort of veering in that direction, rather than
talking about big stocks of these supplies, talking about the capability and
programs. That's conceivable. Saddam might have said that, One day
we'll be out of sanctions and then we can do-- can do these programs again. That is possible. But that doesn't-- did not make them
into an imminent danger at all.
JANE CORBIN: Two years earlier, before September 11,
the Bush Administration seemed to agree Saddam Hussein and his weapons did not
pose a serious threat.
POWELL, Secretary of State: He has not developed any significant
capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional
power against his neighbors.
JANE CORBIN: But by the fall of 2002, when President
Bush came to the U.N., everything had changed.
GEORGE W. BUSH: The history, the logic and the facts
lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering
danger. To suggest otherwise is to
hope against the evidence. To
assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace
of the world in a reckless gamble.
JANE CORBIN: It was American insistence that Iraq
now had to be disarmed that led to a new U.N. resolution and the return of U.N.
inspectors to Iraq. Hans Blix's
team searched hundreds of sites but found no active programs, no stockpiles of
weapons. But the Iraqis did not
produce complete documentation proving they had destroyed all their old stocks
of chemical and biological agents, as they claimed.
HANS BLIX: I never said that what is unaccounted
for exists. But there was a
tendency among governors to say that, Well, it is unaccounted for, so where is
it? Well, the Iraqis said they had
destroyed it all in the summer of 1991. Maybe they did. I don't
know yet, but maybe they did. And
one can simply not jump to the conclusion that it exists.
JANE CORBIN: During their four months in Iraq before
the war, U.N. inspectors found nothing to back up American claims that Iraq was
still producing weapons of mass destruction. But this did not lead to any change in the U.S. assessment
of the threat that Saddam posed.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, Pres. Inst. for Science & Int'l
Security: I think that it's one of the mysteries, is why the
administration could not change its assessment as new information became
available. And you're left to
conclude, unfortunately, that perhaps the WMD was somewhat an excuse, that they
had made up their mind they were going to attack Iraq, and they needed a
reason. This was the sellable
reason. This is why people would
get behind a war.
JANE CORBIN: In Washington, as President Bush and
his deputies sold their policy of regime change in Iraq, they frequently raised
the ultimate specter of modern warfare: the nuclear bomb.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Facing clear evidence of peril, we
cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of
a mushroom cloud.
POWELL: Saddam Hussein is determined to get his
hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so
determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire
high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries.
JANE CORBIN: These aluminum tubes became a weapon in
Washington's armory to make its case that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear
program. The U.N. nuclear inspectors
believed Iraq's explanation: the tubes were for conventional battlefield
rockets. But at that time, David
Kay agreed with the president's officials, who said the tubes were for
centrifuges to enrich uranium for a bomb.
DAVID KAY: The centrifuge tubes look like they're of the design, which is
German-derived, that the Iraqis acquired some time in the 1980s and
developed. They're for enriching
uranium. That is, taking natural
uranium up to the level that makes it useful for a weapon.
JANE CORBIN: But Kay's statement glossed over an
intense debate in Washington. Energy Department officials, the foremost experts, said the tubes were
not suitable for centrifuges. And
many in the State Department believed Iraq's nuclear program was dormant.
GREG THIELMANN, State Dept Intelligence Bureau 1998-'02: The
State Department Intelligence Bureau was convinced by some of the best experts
in the U.S. government and elsewhere on centrifuges that this particular type
of aluminum was not suitable for use in centrifuges in a nuclear weapons
JANE CORBIN: But in his keynote speech at the U.N.
before the war, President Bush used the tubes as proof Iraq was reactivating
its nuclear weapons program.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Today Iraq continues to withhold
important information about its nuclear program. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum
tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to
build a nuclear weapon within a year.
GREG THIELMANN, State Dept. Intel. Bureau '98-'02: The
president, in his speech to the United Nations in September of 2002, just made
a flat assertion this aluminum was for a nuclear weapons program. No acknowledgment whatsoever that there
was any controversy.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] Why was that? What was he trying to do, do you think?
GREG THIELMANN: Well, he was trying to build a case
that Iraq posed an imminent danger, and there's no better way to scare the
American people than to conjure up mushroom clouds.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] After the war, the ISG's first missions
went out looking for evidence of nuclear weapons facilities. But after several months, the ISG
concluded -- and then stated publicly -- there was no evidence Iraq had an active
nuclear program. Still, Dr Kay is
reluctant to concede there was nothing to the pre-war claims made by him and
some American officials.
DAVID KAY: To date, we have found only small
indications of interest in centrifusion, not even anything I would call a
restart of the centrifuge program.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So pretty dormant.
DAVID KAY: I wouldn't say it was dormant. There are signs of new interest in it,
but it was certainly not a vigorous, ongoing program.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Though Saddam was no doubt still
interested in nuclear weapons, the U.N. had dismantled his nuclear
infrastructure and placed his raw stocks of uranium under guard in 1991. Sanctions appear to have made it impossible
for Saddam to reactivate his nuclear program. So where did that leave Dr. Kay's certainty about the tubes?
DAVID KAY: Well, the problem we have with the
tubes is the tubes-- a year ago, two years ago, when we weren't in the country,
we were just looking at the tubes themselves, and the tubes looked like they
were suitable for centrifuge. And
in fact, I still think, if I were only looking at the tubes, they were suitable
for the centrifuge. Now, we've got
a great advantage now. We're
inside the country, so we don't have to grasp at straws of evidence.
JANE CORBIN: "Straws of evidence." That's the way Dr. Kay now describes
what he and the Bush administration once presented as clear proof Iraq was
rebuilding its nuclear program.
By August, the heat was on the Iraq Survey Group at Camp
Slayer. It was now three months
since the end of the war and no weapons of mass destruction had been found. Missions got underway to follow up information found in the
documents. People had been traced
and some Iraqis had come forward to offer tips on where the weapons might be
found. Twelve ISG teams spread out
to begin searching 120 huge ammunition dumps. They were looking for hidden stockpiles of chemical weapons
which the politicians and intelligence agencies said existed before the war.
POWELL: A conservative estimate is that Iraq
today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons
agent. That is enough agent to
fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.
[www.pbs.org: FAQs on the hunt]
JANE CORBIN: Again and again, ISG teams returned to
Camp Slayer without finding any weapons of mass destruction. It was an exhausting, frustrating task. It was a familiar story to Hans Blix,
now home in Sweden writing a book. By now, the ISG had had the same time on the ground in post-Saddam Iraq
as the U.N. had been given before the war and had found no weapons. But Dr. Blix himself had been
suspicious. He had not received
satisfactory proof from the Iraqis that they had destroyed their WMD a decade
earlier, as they claimed.
[on camera] You helped to create this impression
they were there.
HANS BLIX: In a way, we did, because we certainly
didn't exclude that they had them. But it's true that we did say that this is unaccounted for. And I also warned the Security Council
that you cannot jump from that to saying that they have it.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] So could it be that Iraqi officials
were telling the truth when they insisted they had long since destroyed all of
the weapons? Before the war, I had
gone to lunch in Baghdad with the man responsible for satisfying the U.N. that
Iraq no longer had WMD. A key
figure in the weapons programs in the past, Dr. Amer al Sa'adi claimed they had
destroyed all the stockpiles in 1991, but there were no records or independent
CORBIN: [on camera] The West still doesn't seem to believe Iraq. There's still this feeling you're hiding something, you're
not really laying out your cards on the table.
AL SA'ADI, Adviser to Saddam Hussein: Well, how else can they justify their
military build-up? They must
portray things as not being satisfactory, that Iraq is holding back, Iraq is
hiding things. How else can they
justify their actions to their public? If we have something, we will produce it. We will be happy to produce it, to get rid of it and get
done. But we don't. We don't. What do we do?
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] When I returned to Baghdad after the
war, the restaurant had escaped the bombs and the looting, but my host was no
longer available for lunch. He'd
discovered he was one of the infamous deck of cards, the U.S. wanted List, and
so Dr. Amer al Sa'adi chose to give himself up. The city was still violent and lawless, and the doctor's
family had been hold up for weeks at home in a suburb of Baghdad. Helma, Dr. Sa'adi's German wife, had
heard nothing from him for months, since he disappeared into U.S. custody. She insisted he was innocent and
couldn't understand why he hadn't been released.
HELMA AL SA'ADI, Wife of Iraqi Scientist: He was
so convinced about what he had always said. And up to the-- half an hour before he left and he went to
the Americans, he said that, "I know there is nothing to be found and I've
always said that, and I'm repeating it again. And time will bear me out." These were his sort of last words. I remember very well.
JANE CORBIN: Dr. al Sa'adi is being held at Camp
Slayer in a special prison. He is
one of the "high value detainees," as the ISG calls them, top officials and
scientists from Saddam Hussein's regime.
[on camera] What about Dr. Amer al Sa'adi? You're now holding him. Is he saying anything? And what do you really think about his
DAVID KAY: Well, we are talking to him. And he is talking. Do I think it's the whole truth and
nothing but the truth? [laughs] No, indeed, I do not. I think Dr. Sa'adi continues to
withhold vital pieces of information. But we're actively talking to him. As you know, Dr. Sa'adi was involved in a missile chemical program in
the 1980s, the deception effort beginning in 1991, after some of my first
missions. So I have a personal
interest in him. And he continued throughout
the 12 years being a public face. So he knows a great deal, and we would like him to tell us what he
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] By the autumn of 2003, the
interrogations of Dr. Sa'adi and other high ranking Iraqis hadn't led to the
discovery of any weapons.
The ISG team, now 1,400 strong, was about to deliver its
first report. Public criticism of
the Bush administration over Iraq was growing, and so was the pressure on David
DAVID KAY: I just want to produce the facts, and
others have to draw the answers of what were the differences and what are the
implications of any differences that exist.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] You've found no weapons at all so far,
DAVID KAY: We've found no actual weapons of mass
destruction that exist, at this point. But having said that-- and I know that sounds like a pretty startling
statement -- you know how large this country is. The situation that we found ourselves in, for example-- we
didn't start until June. There had
been widespread looting in April and May. Material had disappeared. It's a huge country. It's not
possible to easily move around.
[www.pbs.org: Read David Kay's interview]
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] In October, I went with David Kay to
visit one of his ISG teams as they investigated suspicions Iraq had a
continuing biological weapons program. Before the war, the politicians insisted on the basis of intelligence
that Iraq was producing such weapons.
POWELL: There can be no doubt that Saddam
Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many
more. And he has the ability to
dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death
KILLIP, Iraq Survey Group: We've been through this headquarters
building here. It's taken us quite
a long time to go through all the documents.
KAY: Any documents left?
KILLIP: Lots of documents.
JANE CORBIN: The ISG was looking at evidence Iraq
had misled the U.N. at this agricultural research center south of Baghdad.
KILLIP: OK, what you've got down this side is a
whole series of laboratories--
JANE CORBIN: A former U.N. inspector with long
experience of Iraq's WMD, Hamish Killip, had been conducting an inventory to
see what was here and determine if anything had been removed.
HAMISH KILLIP: There's a bit of looting here. Clearly, things that have been ripped
out from the wall like that-- that looks like looting. On the other hand, there are buildings that we do find here
where you come into a place like this, and it is suspiciously clean. There is absolutely nothing left, and
you know that was done some time ago.
JANE CORBIN: In the past, Iraqi scientists lied,
denying they had developed a military bio-weapons program while hiding it
behind civilian facilities.
HAMISH KILLIP: There are one or two bits of equipment
here which do interest us.
JANE CORBIN: Under a crucial U.N. resolution, 1441,
Iraq was given one last chance to declare equipment which could be used in
forbidden programs. Here the ISG
says it's found evidence of Iraq's deception.
DAVID KAY: It is interesting that this fermenter
was not declared. I mean, that in
and of itself is a violation of 1441. That fermenter was subject to declaration.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] And it ends up in a biological
HAMISH KILLIP: It ends up in one-- a highly secure,
highly competent center of excellence of Iraqi science, which is, as you saw,
you came in, extremely well protected, one of their secret enclaves in the
country. Yes, I mean, the context
of this is very strange.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The ISG now says the fermenter was
suitable for culturing bio-warfare germs, but testing hasn't shown that it was
used for this purpose. So far, the
strongest indication that Iraq may have continued a clandestine program is the
ISG's discovery of 97 samples-- reference strains. A scientist had kept them hidden in his refrigerator at home
for the past 10 years. One of the
test tubes, or vials, contained an organism called botulinum.
[on camera] What about the vial of botulinum that
was found? I mean how dangerous is
it? I mean, could it have been
used for biological weapons?
HAMISH KILLIP: No, that was for diagnostic
purposes. It was not one of the
strains that Iraq weaponized.
JANE CORBIN: But the suggestion is that it could
have been used.
HAMISH KILLIP: It's something that Iraq should have
declared to us. This is-- it's like
other bits of equipment you've seen here today. Iraq had an obligation to tell us about these things and it
did not do so, and that in itself breaks 1441.
JANE CORBIN: But not a substance that could have
HAMISH KILLIP: Not as a vial, no.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] This Iraqi ministry was responsible for
declaring to the U.N. any items remaining from Iraq's past weapons
program. I'd been here before the
war, when U.N. inspectors were searching the country.
[on camera] This place has been pretty much cleared
out, hasn't it? There's nothing
[voice-over] In January, 2003, in this same
ministry, I'd been allowed to meet a Ba'ath Party official and senior
scientist, who, it now turned out, had given the botulinum to her colleague to
hide. Dr. Rihab Taha, the woman
U.N. inspectors called "Dr. Germ," had used her skills in Iraq's past
bio-weapons program. She admitted
that in the 1980s, she'd played a key role in developing anthrax and botulinum--
for Iraq's self-defense, she claimed.
RIHAB TAHA, Iraqi Scientist:: I think it is our right to have a
capability and be able to defend ourselves and to have something as a
CORBIN: [on camera] So even though you were producing toxins and bacteria that could kill
hundreds of thousands of people?
TAHA:: Well, we never have this intention to
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] But the ISG say it has now been told by
Dr. Taha's colleague that as well as botulinum she wanted him to hide other
samples, including anthrax, an agent Iraq had weaponized.
DAVID KAY: This scientist turned back after two
days the larger box of samples, he says, to Dr. Taha and said -- he was keeping
it in his refrigerator -- "It's too dangerous. I have a small child in the house. Take it back." We've not been able to find that group of samples, and we need to.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] And what does she say? What does Rihab Taha say about this?
DAVID KAY: She says absolutely nothing about this.
JANE CORBIN: She denies it?
DAVID KAY: No, she just doesn't talk about
it. She just won't respond to
questions on this issue.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Another Iraqi scientist has told us Dr.
Taha gave samples of a third bio-warfare agent, aflatoxin, to a colleague to
keep at home. But there was still
no proof Iraq had restarted a bio-weapons program, and the ISG's language was
changing again. They weren't
talking so much about programs, but Iraq's violation of the U.N. resolution.
[on camera] But those who would say that this war
was fought on faulty intelligence would point to the fact that you found a few
old vials of material. This doesn't
constitute a biological program or even, really, proof of an intention to start
DAVID KAY: We haven't said that it constitutes a
biological program or the intention. What we have said, and I think it's undeniable, is that this was a clear
violation of U.N. Resolution 1441. The Iraqis, under the resolution, were required to give up all of this
material, to declare it to the U.N. For over 10 years, they failed to declare it and failed to return
it. That's all we've said about
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Last October, David Kay came back to
Washington to deliver the ISG's first interim report.
KAY: At this point, we have found
substantial evidence of an intent of senior-level Iraqi officials, including
Saddam, to continue production, at some future point in time, of weapons of
mass destruction. We have not
found yet-- we have not found, at this point, actual weapons. It does not mean we've concluded there
are no actual weapons. It means,
at this point in time -- and it's a huge country with a lot to do -- that we have
not yet found weapons.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, Former UN Nuclear Weapons Inspector: Well,
I think what the ISG has shown but is not willing to say it, is that the
administration was wrong. The
administration claim there were large stocks of chemical and biological
weapons, there was an active nuclear weapons program. And the ISG, I think, has proven that those programs did not
JANE CORBIN: The Iraq Survey Group did have one
revelation to make in its October report. It concerned long-range missiles, another weapon which the politicians
had insisted before the war that Saddam was developing.
POWELL: Saddam Hussein's intentions have never
changed. He is not developing the missiles
for self-defense. These are
missiles that Iraq wants in order to project power, to threaten, and to deliver
chemical, biological and, if we let him, nuclear warheads.
JANE CORBIN: The ISG had been gathering up Iraq's
battlefield rockets, weapons with a range up to 150 kilometers, which were
allowed under U.N. resolutions. But Iraq had been secretly developing several long-range missiles and
seeking forbidden technology from North Korea. There was no sign of Iraq's old Scuds, but the ISG discovered
evidence that engineers had continued to produce fuel for those rockets.
DAVID KAY: Missiles are very significant to us
because they're the long pole in the tent. They're the thing that takes the longest to produce. You do not get a 1,000-kilometer-range
missile in a matter of weeks or even months. The Iraqis had started in late '99, 2000 to produce a family
of missiles that would have gotten to 1,000 kilometers.
JANE CORBIN: Valuable information was coming from an
Iraqi engineer prepared to risk his life to expose Iraq's illicit missile
programs. I set off to meet him in
a safe house in Baghdad. He didn't
want to be identified. The
engineer explained his team had been given orders in April, 2001, to begin
secretly to design a long-range missile.
[on camera] So how far was this missile designed to
ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Five hundred kilometers.
JANE CORBIN: Five hundred kilometers. That's beyond the permitted range.
ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Yes.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The design involved adding an extra
engine to a short-range rocket. The Iraqis reckoned they'd be able to hide things more successfully
inside an existing program that was allowed. Then the team were told to double the missile's range.
ENGINEER: [through interpreter]
This rocket from 1,000 kilometers.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So this was even further, 1,000
ENGINEER: [through interpreter] A
thousand kilometers, yes.
JANE CORBIN: And how many engines?
interpreter] Five engines.
JANE CORBIN: Why did you work on this forbidden
ENGINEER: [through interpreter] Our regime here was harsh. We could not refuse to work. When the state ordered us to make a
missile with a range of 500 kilometers, we couldn't say we would not work on it
because we would have been killed or imprisoned.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The missile was never built. The designs we've seen show only a
conventional warhead. But when the
U.N. visited last year, everything was hidden.
ENGINEER: [through interpreter] We were told that we must hand
documents and designs for long-range missiles to the project director-- that is,
the director general. We would
hand them over to him, and he would hide them. When the U.N. left, these documents would be returned to us
and we would start work again.
JANE CORBIN: I wanted to talk to another missile
scientist to find further evidence for the engineer's story. It meant traveling to another part of
town. Baghdad is a dangerous place
for Westerners and Iraqis alike.
[on camera] I have just come back from talking to a
second Iraqi scientist. He's a
more senior individual, and he confirms he was involved, too, in this illicit
missile program. He won't let me
film him, however. He won't even
let me say who he is. He's
absolutely terrified. He's scared
of retribution, he says, from members of Saddam's old regime.
[voice-over] Iraqi scientists have learned the risks
of talking. One man who had
cooperated with the ISG has already paid the ultimate price.
DAVID KAY: One was killed right after being talked
to by us. Someone came up to him
in front of his house, put a gun to the back of his head and blew his brains
out. Another source, very
important source to us on the biological program, took six bullets into his
body, and it's only by the grace of God that he's still alive. Others report routinely that they're
under threats, and we're trying to deal with that.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So what's the answer? I mean, this reign of fear, it's likely
to continue. Will you ever really
get to the bottom of this?
DAVID KAY: Well, we all have hopes that when
Saddam is captured, the pressure will go off somewhat.
BREMER: Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday
December, 13th, at about 8:30 PM local in a cellar in the town of Adwar, which
is about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit.
1st SOLDIER: Two
hands appeared. The individual
clearly wanted to surrender. That
individual was removed from the hole.
2nd SOLDIER: He
said that, "I'm Saddam Hussein. I
am the president of Iraq, and I want to negotiate." And then the response from the U.S. soldiers was, "President
Bush sends his regards."
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] The capture of Saddam Hussein elated
the Bush administration and many Iraqis. The ISG tells me it has diminished the violent reprisals and fear
amongst their Iraqi sources who worked in Saddam's weapons programs. But would Saddam himself reveal vital
information about what happened to his weapons of mass destruction?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't trust Saddam Hussein, I don't
believe he'll tell the truth. He
didn't tell the truth for over a decade. I just can't believe he's going to change his ways just because he
happens to be captured.
JANE CORBIN: Saddam has now been in U.S. custody for
more than a month and has reportedly revealed nothing about the elusive
So what was Saddam's game? Why hadn't he come clean with the U.N. inspectors?
[on camera] What do you think might have been going
through Saddam Hussein's mind, personally, when it came to this whole question
of weapons of mass destruction, if he didn't have them?
HANS BLIX, Exec. Chmn UN Inspectors, 2000-'03: I
think a lot of pride. I think that
he thought of himself as the Nebuchadnezzar of Mesopotamia, and I think that he
regarded us inspectors as sort of creepy-crawlies that came in. He never received either Ekeus or
Butler or myself. I think we're
far too lowly creatures to be seen by this emperor.
JANE CORBIN: In the center of Baghdad lies Iraq's
most important war memorial. It
commemorates the million lives lost in the bloody struggle with Iran in the
1980s. It was during that conflict
that Saddam developed most of his weapons of mass destruction. Iran is Iraq's great historic enemy,
Israel its ideological foe. These
regional conflicts are the most likely reason Saddam continued to develop his
forbidden missile program. It's a
view confirmed by the Iraqi engineer I'd interviewed.
ENGINEER: [through interpreter] The minister said that Iran had fired a
750-kilometer-range missile. So
within six months, we had to design one that went 500 kilometers. The government wasn't on the best of
terms with Iran, and a missile like that could reach Israel.
JANE CORBIN: And if Saddam still had chemical
weapons, as the U.S. believed, why hadn't he used them when coalition forces
crossed the "Red Line" on their approach into Baghdad? We spoke to an officer from the elite
Special Republican Guard who was there defending the city. He believes Saddam's way of countering
all his enemies was to bluff.
OFFICER, SPECIAL REPUBLICAN GUARD: [through
interpreter] He used chemical weapons at Halabja. Everybody was afraid of him using them,
even during the war with Iran. People in Kuwait were afraid of chemical weapons. Israel was afraid of them. So everybody was afraid that Iraq would
use chemical weapons against them, so they avoided him.
JANE CORBIN: The officer says he ran his unit's
weapons inventory. Western
intelligence believed the Special Republican Guard had responsibility for
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
OFFICER: [through interpreter] After the sanctions -- that is to say,
from 1991 onwards -- there were no stocks of chemical weapons, neither with the
Special Republican Guard nor other units. There were none available at all. It was no more than talk, a lot of hot air.
JANE CORBIN: If it was a bluff, it was also a
massive miscalculation. Saddam
lost his army, his family and his country. And many of the scientists who served Saddam, like Dr. al
Sa'adi, have lost their freedom.
HELMA AL SA'ADI, Wife of Iraqi Scientist: [reading
from letter] "My only
regrets for the life I have lived so far: Was it all futile? I tend to think so now."
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] Why didn't Saddam Hussein come
clean? What happened? What is-- there is a big mystery here. What's the answer?
HELMA AL SA'ADI: My husband was fighting on two
fronts. He was trying to convince
the U.N., and also he was trying to convince the government, the regime, to
cooperate with him. But somehow,
they always kept decisions or admissions right to the last moment. Maybe the president was bluffing, thinking
they will be afraid.
[www.pbs.org: Read an interview with Jane Corbin]
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] For more than a decade, I had covered
the story of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The first Gulf War had revealed the
frightening reality of his aggressive chemical, biological and nuclear
programs. The aftermath of this
new war was revealing something quite different. Despite his intention to rebuild a weapons program, Saddam's
imperial dreams had turned to dust, his country impoverished by sanctions, his
pariah regime held in check by intrusive U.N. inspections. Like the man himself, who emerged from
his spider hole still claiming to be president of Iraq, his long-feared weapons
seem to have been a shabby illusion conjured up by an unquestioning mindset in
the West and by the arrogance of Saddam's last, fatal bluff.
Back at Camp Slayer, the hunt for Iraq's weapons was running
out of steam by the end of 2003. Saddam's capture had not led to any breakthroughs, and David Kay was
fighting to keep the full resources of the ISG. Increasingly, his intelligence analysts were being diverted
to the bunt for the insurgents, as attacks against U.S. troops
intensified. In my last interview
with him, Kay made it clear he was already downgrading expectations.
[on camera] Do you ever think that you may have got
it completely wrong, there may be nothing to this at the end of the day,
nothing really substantial, nothing current and really threatening?
DAVID KAY: I think we have a process that, if we
get to the end of the day and we find nothing, we will all be able to say,
"This is the evidence that led-- leads us to the conclusion that there was
nothing there or there was something there."
JANE CORBIN: You're prepared to be proved wrong,
that there was nothing, at the end of the day?
DAVID KAY: Absolutely. If that turns out to be the truth, you know, so be it.
JANE CORBIN: [voice-over] Meanwhile, back in Washington,
President Bush used a media interview to send a new message that seemed to say,
with Saddam now in prison, actually finding his weapons no longer mattered.
"Primetime," December 16, 2003]
SAWYER, ABC News: --stated as a hard fact that there were
weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to
acquire those weapons still.
GEORGE W. BUSH: So what's the difference?
DIANE SAWYER: Well--
GEORGE W. BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire
weapons-- if he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.
SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he
didn't have weapons of mass destruction?
W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat, and the
fact that he has gone means America is a safer country.
SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass
GEORGE W. BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I'm telling you, I made the right
decision for America.
JANE CORBIN: When David Kay returned to Washington
to spend Christmas with his family, he threatened to resign his post heading up
the ISG. He was frustrated that
chasing Iraq's weapons was no longer America's top priority.
The ISG is scheduled to deliver its next interim report in
February. It is likely to be
David Kay's final word on his long hunt for Saddam's elusive weapons and an
ending that might just suit the politicians.
HANS BLIX: They would rather end the whole thing
by controversy than by an admission that it was wrong.
JANE CORBIN: [on camera] So in other words, they want to leave
it hanging, so--
HANS BLIX: Yes, I think so.
JANE CORBIN: --so no one can say, "Oh, there
definitely weren't weapons."
HANS BLIX: I think so. Controversy will be preferable to a judgment.
JANE CORBIN: And what's your view of that?
HANS BLIX: Well, I think that-- again, I'd like to
get to the truth. What is the
reality, and looking at the evidence. I mean, it may take time, but I think we will get there. Maybe the historians will have to do
it. Politicians will prefer to
retreat under a cloud of dust or mist, but we ordinary people I think would
like to have some real clarity.
CHASING SADDAM'S WEAPONS
Key Yip Lam
Copyright 2004 BBC
Michael H. Amundson
Erin Martin Kane
FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
WEBSITE MANAGING EDITOR
Louis Wiley Jr.
Chasing Saddam's Weapons
is a BBC production in association with WGBH/FRONTLINE.
WGBH Educational Foundation
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely
responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: There's more to explore about this
report on our Web site, including a talk with BBC reporter Jane Corbin about
her work and access on this story, the extended interviews with chief weapons
inspectors David Kay and Hans Blix, some frequently asked questions about the
hunt for Iraq's banned weapons, plus the chance to join the discussion and more
Next time on FRONTLINE:
GEORGE W. BUSH: Right here in our neighborhood, we have
ANNOUNCER: Six American citizens--
ASHCROFT, Attorney General: We must prevent first, prosecute
ANNOUNCER: --arrested in the name of homeland
GEORGE W. BUSH: One by one, the terrorists are learning
the meaning of American justice.
ANNOUNCER: Were they really a threat?
ALWAN: We were definitely no sleeper
cell. I'm not a terrorist. I love my country. My son lives here.
ANNOUNCER: Chasing the Sleeper Cell next time on FRONTLINE.
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